Monday, January 31, 2011

The Poverty of Prosperity

This week I am going to spend a good deal of time talking about prosperity.  I have in the past posted on this subject, but this week I want to be more comprehensive in what the Bible says regarding prosperity and the problems with believing that God promises wealth to those who believe in Jesus.  I think I have well covered how the Bible makes no such promise for Christians to be wealthy, and this week I want to address the problems that can come out of a prosperity-driven Gospel.  Today I want to talk about the problem of growing to trust in your riches instead of the Lord. I will use a popular parable to make the case.
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully." Luke 12:16 NKJV
The parable begins with Jesus establishing that God gave this already rich man even more riches.  He already had money and now his fields have yielded a great crop.
"And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' " Luke 12:17 NKJV
He asked the right question, unfortunately he asked the wrong person.  He asked himself "Self, whatever shall I do with this great abundance that I have?"  What he should has done is asked God.  He should have said "God, you have blessed me with great abundance, whatever shall you have me do with it?"  Unfortunately, too many blessed of God spend more time asking as this man asked instead of asking God.  This is even true for those in Christ who are blessed with riches.  The reason why is a problem of that doctrine.  If you sit under a teacher who teaches that you are supposed to be prosperous and God gives you prosperity, you will feel that you somehow deserve the riches you have.  Those people make themselves feel better by giving "generously", but they fail to realize that it is not a matter of how much they give but in how much they hold back.  I remind you all of the widow's two mites who was said by Jesus to have given more than all of those rich people who gave out of their abundance.  In the end, the amount we hold back shows just how much faith in God we really have.  We will see that played out in this parable. 
"So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods." Luke 12:18 NKJV
When you ask your self what you should do with your riches, odds are your self will tell you to satisfy yourself.  This man decided to hoard the riches God has blessed him with. 
'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."'  Luke 12:19 NKJV
When you have stored riches, you will begin to rely on those riches over God.  This man had no care or concern for what God might or might not do as his trust was in his riches.  This is the case of any rich man who holds hoards his riches.  As I said before, our measure of faith is in how much we keep back for ourselves.  If we truly have faith in God, why do we need a large bank account?  If we truly trust God then why do we keep back more than we can conceivably need instead of giving all or most of it away for those less fortunate?  They can deny it all they want, but the rich man trusts in his riches.  The evidence is in the fact that he is rich because if you are rich it means you have stored wealth.  If you have stored wealth, it means you have held back in giving all of your excess to those less fortunate.
"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'  Luke 12:20 NKJV
Riches can not buy your salvation.  I know the Christian prosperity believer does not believe he purchased his salvation, but that his prosperity is the result of his salvation.  For that person, I would say that your riches can not buy you fruit.  When us Christians stand before Christ to give an account for what we have done with our life, we will not be judged by how much wealth we have accumulated but what we have done with the wealth (or lack thereof) God has given us.  If God provides you wealth and prosperity, that is provided for use in His service to produce fruit unto Him.  It is not an investment in your enjoying the pleasure of life. When we stand before Christ, all He wants to see is the eternal fruit we have produced with what He has given us and not the earthly mammon we have obtained. 
"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."   Luke 12:21 NKJV
Laying up treasures for yourself does not make you rich towards God.  Being rich towards God is the eternal fruit we produce in the lives of others, not in the wealth we have hoarded for ourselves.  Jesus makes this even more clear in Revelation.
"Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. " Revelation 3:17-18 NKJV
The person Jesus is describing in Revelation sounds much like the man in the parable here.  The person Jesus is talking to is also Christian.  Christians, who hoard their wealth, are just like the man in the parable Jesus talked about.  May we not be that man.  When we are rich, we feel in need of nothing, when we feel as though we are in need of nothing, we learn to trust in what we have and not in the One who provided it.  Wealth is not good for a Christian as wealth becomes what a Christian trusts in.  Jesus, after sharing this parable, really brings this point home.
Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? " Luke 12:22-28 NKJV
Note the "therefore."  What Jesus is about to say is the lesson behind the parable he just shared.  This is not a new thought, but a continuation of what he shared about the foolish rich man.  The lesson we take from this parable is that we should not even worry about our life or our material needs.  That is God's job.  He uses the examples of ravens who neither grow food nor build big storehouses to store their food yet they do not go hungry.  He uses the example of lilies who do absolutely nothing to clothe themselves but just grow according to God's plan and have become a picture of beauty, even to this day.  We are more valuable than plants or birds and so just as God takes care of their needs, He will take care of ours.  This is not the say that He will make us wealthy (note the example of ravens who do not store food), but He will take care of our needs.  We need not strive for wealth to take care of us, only God who will provide for us.
"And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things." Luke 12:29-30 NKJV
We are not to seek after material wealth.  God knows what we need and God will provide those things. Seeking after wealth or even hoping for wealth is not seeking God.  If God is our provider, it only makes sense that we should seek after Him. 
"But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you." Luke 12:31 NKJV
And there we have it.  Seeking after wealth is not seeking after God.  Desiring wealth is not desiring God.  We need to only seek after God and not even worry about the rest as God will provide it. 
"Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32 NKJV
And here is why wealth does not matter in this life.  We are heirs to the Kingdom of God.  Many want that kingdom now, but that is like the Prodigal son asking for his inheritance before its time.  Giving us our inheritance now only allows us to go off on our own and forget our reliance on God.  Giving us our inheritance now only allows us to squander that inheritance on our own pleasures.  The kingdom is our inheritance and that kingdom is eternal.  Some would argue that being heirs we are to be rich now, but it is clear from this parable and many other parables that this world now is not the kingdom to come.
"Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Luke 12:33-34 NKJV
And here is the proof that what we have now is not the inheritance to come.  We are called to give up we have and give it to the poor in exchange for eternal riches.  We are not to hoard our worldly goods, but give up those worldly goods for the sake of those less fortunate and in return we get treasure in heaven.  More than that, if our treasure is in heaven that is where our heart will be.  Conversely, if we hoard our treasure here on earth in this life, that is where our heart will be. 

The first problem with prosperity, as I hope we have seen today, is that we grow to trust in that prosperity.  Jesus gave us many warnings of this fact throughout what is recorded of His teachings.  We are warned that it is harder for a rich man to go to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle.  We are warned that we can not serve God and money.  We are told to sell what we have and give it to the poor (not just the rich man who approached Jesus, but even here).  We are told to give up what we have to bless those who do not have and in return we will receive treasures in heaven.  That is the work produced by our faith that God will provide for us.  That is the proof that you faith is in God alone for your provision.  If you fear letting go of anything you have, then what faith can you say you have of God to make sure you have enough to get by?  If you have more than one car for yourself and you know someone who needs a car, do you have faith enough in God to allow that one car to provide for you or will you hold onto the second?  If you have millions of dollars, how much do you need to hold back to have faith that God can use that to take care of your needs?  If you have more than one home, how much faith do you have in God to keep you secure in that one home to let go of the second?  I would love to see those so-called prosperity teachers truly live for Christ and give up those billion dollar churches and build a million churches in places where there is need.  I would love for those who have several private jets give them up and give that money back to the struggling flock they have been fleecing.  I would love for any of us who have so much extra to give that extra to those who have none and have faith in God to provide for us through what we have.  Again, the more extra you think you need shows what little faith you have in God to continue to provide for you. 

God wants us to rely upon Him.  Giving us the means to rely on ourselves is not in His character and will only serve to hurt our relationship and reliance upon Him.  Some like to say we are King's kids and in a way we are.  But we must remember that God is a perfect Father and knows it is in His child's best interest to not spoil him.  The best place to be is to always be relying on the one thing that will never let us down.  We must rely on God and our only desire should be to rely on Him alone. 
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NKJV

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Of Course, Another Lesson From the Weather

I know you are all probably tired on my Saturday forays into God's messages from weather, but please bear with me a little while longer.  This one has nothing to do with snow, but with Hurricane Floyd that grazed New Jersey some years ago.

I remember that storm.  I remember going out for pizza and wondering when the "real" hard rain was going to fall.  It was not all that bad in my town and I was feeling rather disappointed.  I went home, enjoyed my pizza, watched some television, and went to bed.  I woke up the next morning and checked my email and my eBay sales, I took a shower, got dressed, and left for work.  It was a beautiful warm and sunny day and from all I knew I would be at work in about 15 minutes.  I was wrong.

What I did not do was pay attention to the news or even bother to check.  What was not a big deal in my town was a huge deal a few miles up the road.  Several towns were underwater and just about every road I needed to take to work was flooded including a major highway that I have never before or since seen flooded.  I tried probably six different ways to get to work and ended up doubling all the way back to near where I lived and took a long way around to work well away from the river.  The 15 minute drive took me two hours.

What was my mistake?  I did not check the news and so I did not have the information to plan ahead.  Adversity struck and I still did not think to turn a traffic report on and tried to solve my problems all on my own.  This repeated string of failures due to uninformed guesses took two hours from my day. If I had taken just a few minutes I would have learned unequivocally to avoid the Raritan River at all costs.  If I had paid attention from the start I would have been at work in 30 minutes.  If I paid attention after I came to the flooded areas, I would have doubled back right away and saved at least an hour. 

So what is the message in all this?  We will have persecution and tribulation in this world.  The Word of God promises such, but we have His word to not only warn us what is to come, but how to handle it when it does.  So many churches today stay away from the so-called "negative" parts of the Bible, but those who sit under that teaching will face persecution and adversity just as every other Christian does only they will not be expecting it.  For many it will may drive them away from the faith for others there will be a crisis and for all they will have no knowledge of what to do in that situation. 

And so if you want to make it through this mess of a fallen world full of adversity, trials, and persecutions, turn to God's word and turn to God in prayer and He will see you through. Without His word and His guidance we will wander frantically and aimlessly when adversity comes.  This world can be tough, but our Lord has overcome it and so can we, but only in Him. 
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hall of Faith Series : Crossing the Red Sea

Good Friday morning everyone.  Once again we will be continuing in our series on those featured in Hebrews 11, otherwise known as the Hall of Faith.  This week we are continuing on in the faith of Moses and the growing faith of the people of Israel. 
By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. Hebrews 11:29 NKJV
For today's study, we return to Exodus.
Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before PI Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, 'They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.' Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD." And they did so.  Exodus 14:1-4 NKJV
When we left off last week, the people of Israel finally departed Egypt after the Passover.  We are in the beginnings of the journey to the Promised Land and God has revealed to Moses that Pharaoh is up to his old tricks and will once again change his mind.  He instructs Moses to camp by the Red Sea to lead Pharaoh into a trap, a trap that will cost Pharaoh and his army their lives. 
Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, "Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness. So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside PI Hahiroth, before Baal Zephon.  Exodus 14:5-9 NKJV
Just as God said it, it happened.  Pharaoh changed his mind and was set on pursuing and retaking Israel back into slavery.  He took a powerful army of chariots, horses, and soldiers and caught up to Israel near the Red Sea.  Just as God had said, Pharaoh thought he had Israel trapped.  God had other plans.  In reality, it was Pharaoh who was trapped. 
And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."  Exodus 14:10-12 NKJV
If this is not a lesson for us to try to see things from God's perspective and not our own limited view then I do not know what is.  I mean, from an earthly perspective, Israel was in a real tough spot.  Their backs were up against the Red Sea and a large, powerful, and angry Egyptian army was closing in fast.  They were no match for a sea or a great army.  Their faith was tested and was even cracking as they questioned the wisdom of Moses in bringing them out of slavery to begin with.  It was this whining and questioning that would continue to get them into trouble. 
And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace."  Exodus 14:13-14 NKJV
There are some quotes from Scripture that should be stamped on our hearts and minds.  This is one of them "Do not be afraid, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord."  There is no impossible situation when God is your Father.  The people thought that they were in dire circumstances with either dying by the sword of the Egyptians or the waters of the Red Sea.  Moses encourages them that God will come through.  We have the benefit of Scripture so we know that they are in no danger, and that they are right where God wants them to be. 
And the LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. "Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen."  Exodus 14:15-18 NKJV
God now reveals His plan.  He is going to part the Red Sea for the people of Israel to cross, lure the Egyptians into the parted sea, then let the waters return drowning the Egyptians.  God chooses such a dramatic plan to show the Egyptians once and for all that He is the Lord.  Of course, they will know that even more when they meet Him in a very short time. 
And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.  Exodus 14:19-20 NKJV
God's plan begins to take shape.  First He came between the Egypt and Israel causing darkness to the Egypt and light to Israel.  This blinded the Egyptians to what Israel was doing with the effect of giving Israel a head start.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.  Exodus 14:21-23 NKJV
Moses stretches out his hand and the Lord parted the sea allowing Israel to move across.  Do not lose the faith in the actions of Israel.  Just imagine how high those water walls must have been on either side.  An entire nation walking between two giant walls of water is a huge step of faith.  Egypt seeing Israel making it across decided to pursue them through the sea. 
Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians. And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians."  Exodus 14:24-25 NKJV
The trap is now set.  God breaks their chariots and they end up stuck in the middle of two giant water walls in the middle of the Red Sea.  The gravity of the situation sets in as the Egyptians begin to panic.  They now know (and should have know a long time ago) that the Lord God fights for Israel.  Judgment is coming, and they know their fates are sealed. 
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen." And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained.  Exodus 14:26-28 NKJV
Moses stretches out his hand and the sea closes in on the Egyptians.  Pharaoh and his army met their watery death by the hand of God.  None survived the judgment of God.  May this be a warning to any of those who choose to side against Israel.  God fights for His people.  More accurately, God annihilates for His people.  There is no "fight" when that fight is against the Lord. 
But the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.  Exodus 14:29-31 NKJV
God was glorified and the mighty wonder of the destruction of the Egyptian army solidified the faith of the people in the Lord and the leadership of Moses. 
There are two lessons I want us to bring home today, though the parting of the Red Sea holds many lessons.  First, we sometimes have a hard time understanding the God of the Old Testament and of the New Testament.  They are the same God, but some seem to think or teach that God somehow changed when Jesus came to earth.  Our God is the same God yesterday today and forever.  We see here a great picture of that one God in that He simultaneously brought darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Israelites.  He is the same today darkening the mind of those who reject Him while giving light to the minds of those who accept Him.  We also see here that God simultaneously was seen as the God of salvation by the Israelites and the God of judgment and wrath by the Egyptians.  In the same way, when judgment finally comes, it is the same God who will welcome all those who accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ into eternity and cast those who reject that gift into the lake of fire.  God did not change for the new covenant.  Instead of pouring His wrath out on the world for its sin, He poured it out on Jesus on the Cross.  And because of that, we now have our Mediator Jesus between us and God so that when we look to Him we see the Lord and the grace and mercy provided through His sacrifice and when God looks upon us He sees us as righteous through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.  God's wrath will again be poured out on those who reject that gift and anyone who thinks that God has gone "soft" in the New Testament will learn the same lesson the Egyptians learned. 
The other lesson is that no matter what circumstances may seem like in life, God is ultimately in control.  If you think you are stuck between a rock and hard place, do not cry out in despair but wait on the Lord.  Just as God led the Israelites through the Red Sea, He can lead you over, around, or through the rock or the hard place or He can just simply remove them.  There is no such thing as impossible from God's perspective.  There is no hopeless situation when the Lord is in control of it.  The Israelites were in for all worldly purposes an impossible situation.  I daresay that none of them could have imagined that God would just part the Red Sea and allow them to walk across.  If we stay in God's will for our lives (as Israel did when they obeyed God as to where to camp), we can always be assured that we are where God wants us to be.  If we are where God wants us to be then we never have anything to fear.  God is leading us to salvation not to destruction, remember that always no matter what situation you are in.   When you find yourself in a seemingly hopeless situation, remember these words "Do not be afraid, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord."  Amen.
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah  Psalm 46:10-11 NKJV

Thursday, January 27, 2011

From Jesus, With Love

There is nothing more important than the Gospel.  Sharing the love of Jesus is more important than anything on earth we can do.  It is our Great Commission to share the Gospel and make disciples of all the nations.  It is the reason why we are not just raptured to Heaven after accepting Jesus.  It is our reason for living.  Preaching, though, is more than words, it is meeting the needs of those we preach to.  We often err to one extreme or the other in this area.  We have some ministries that make the mistake of diminishing the Gospel until it is secondary to whatever social program they are trying to foster and the Gospel is never even preached.  We have others where they are too busy preaching that they never take the time to listen and no needs are met, including their eternal one.  A rightfully balanced ministry will perform whatever works they are performing openly in the name of the Lord and as a means to have the opportunity to share Jesus.  We show the love of Jesus through our works and preach the Gospel of Jesus with our words.  Both are important as we see in Paul recounting his charge before being sent out.
But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.  Galatians 2:7-10 NKJV
Paul was sent out to preach the Gospel to the gentiles with the express concern that he does not forget the ministry to the poor.  We also know that Jesus and the Apostles took a collection for the poor.  There are many other examples as well of God's concern for the poor.  There can be no dispute that as Christians we have that responsibility.  What we need to find, though, is the balance between the Great Commission and the commission to ministry to the poor. 

First, I will address the extreme of forsaking the Gospel for the ministry to the poor.  What I mean are those so-called ministries who have no part in sharing the Gospel, only in social programs. Let me begin by sharing a story about a church I once attended.  In fact, it was the church I was saved in.  I have to say that my pastor Brother Bell was a solid man of God with many years as a faithful servant of our Lord who I am sure is enjoying beyond measure his eternal reward.  I also want to say that the church was a great church and so when I tell this story, I do so as sharing but one example of an error that was made and not in any way a judgment on the church.  There is no such thing as a perfect church and mistakes will be made by all of them.  This is one example of a rare mistake made by an otherwise wonderful church.  There was a local group run by the Unitarian church that if I recall had a home for people with AIDS.  That leader of the group was invited to preach from the pulpit and Brother Bell pledged our church's support for the organization.  People with AIDS are, except in the rarest of cases, terminally ill.  If anyone needs to hear the Gospel it is them, but a Unitarian outreach is only going to share the gospel of destruction leading those poor souls from a sinful life to a dreaded disease to eternal judgment.  The church was putting a social program above the Gospel and that was wrong.  The correct response would have been to start our own or find another Christian home to support where the Gospel is preached.  It is right to minister to the physical needs of someone with AIDS, but it must be done as a means to share the Gospel. 

A more glaring example of a ministry that is working in error is Habitat For Humanity.  As much as they promote themselves as a Christian ministry, I have a real hard time believing it.  This is from their website. 
Habitat is a partnership founded on common ground— bridging theological differences by putting love into action. Everyone can use the hammer as an instrument to manifest God's love. Habitat’s late founder, Millard Fuller, called this concept "the theology of the hammer." "We may disagree on all sorts of other things,” said Fuller, “but we can agree on the idea of building homes with God's people in need, and in doing so using biblical economics: no profit and no interest." Habitat for Humanity welcomes all people to build with us in partnership. "The Bible teaches that God is the God of the whole crowd," explained Fuller. "God's love leaves nobody out, and my love should not either. This understanding drives 'the theology of the hammer' around the world, steadily building more and more houses in more and more countries."   --
Habitat allows anyone to volunteer as part of their ministry.  You can be Christian, but you can also be Wiccan, Atheist, Muslim, or anything else.  It is not about Jesus, it is about making and selling homes.  They are a failure in the Great Commission in that you are building houses for people who are still going to Hell.  Jesus told us to make disciples not to build houses.  If we are building houses it needs to be in the context of making disciples, otherwise it is not a Christian ministry.  On a side note, they say they use "biblical economics"  of no profit and no interest.  However, as Christians, the Bible tells us to lend without the expectation of getting anything back.  Habitat makes sure you can pay it back, otherwise they will not help you.  I find it offensive that they call themselves Christian while ignoring the needs of people deemed "too poor" for them to help.  While tending to the needs of the poor is important, ministering the Gospel must take priority. 
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.  Acts 6:1-6 NKJV
Here we see a perfect picture of the preeminence of the Word.  Ministering to the widows was important as we see a group of solid believers appointed to oversee that ministry when it came to light that it was being neglected.  We also see that even though it was an important ministry, it was not as important as the Word. 

The other extreme are those who neglect the needs for sake of the Gospel.  I will again share a story.  For a time, I served in a food ministry and as part of that ministry we would deliver food to the tenants of a local Welfare Motel.  We generally worked in teams of two delivering food to the individual families who resided there.  One such occasion I was partnered with someone who had his Gospel script in his head and nothing in heaven or on earth was going to shake him that script.  We would get to someone's room and as soon as the door opened, he would begin.  The person would try to interject prayer concerns or other things they were going through, but it was basically ignored.  You could see the faces gloss over as they heard the same exact script they heard last month and the month before and on and on and no one paid any attention to their needs.  People are not going to hear the Gospel if they think the person presenting it really does not care about them.  What I mean is that we are the ambassadors of God, and the love we show them is the love they will perceive God shows them.  We know God loves them, we must love them too.  Loving them is more than holding out food to bribe them to open the door to hear the Gospel.  It is about listening to their needs, which generally go way beyond food.  That is not the example of Jesus.  People came to Jesus will all kinds of needs and while Him being the Messiah was the single most important message, he also met all those needs.  He healed, resurrected, loved, ministered, listened, and answered those who came to Him.  We must do the same.  We must love those we reach out to as Jesus did.  It is not enough to tell them Jesus loves them, but we must show them the love of Jesus through us.
"And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."  Mark 12:31 NKJV
Finding the right balance in our ministry is essential in our following the Great Commission of the Lord and in His example.  We can not put meeting the needs of others over the Gospel, but we can not neglect the needs of others when sharing the Gospel.  We know that the most important need is their eternal need, but they do not know that.  We know that Jesus is ultimately the answer to their problems, but they may not even know truly who Jesus is.  We know that their greatest hope in this life is the eternal life in Christ, but all they know is this life and the cares and concerns it brings.  We know they are starving for the Lord, but they think they are just plain starving.   I will close with a story of one man who came to Jesus for healing and at first did not get what he came for but got something better.  I am sure he was confused.  I am sure he was thinking "thanks Jesus for forgiveness, but I still can't walk."  Jesus provided his eternal need first, but he still remember his physical one and healed him not just as a sign to that poor paralyzed man but to those around him.  The message in the Scripture I am closing with is that our goal is the show them the answer to their eternal needs, we need to show them by allowing Jesus to show through us in our love for our neighbors.  Jesus healed that man as a sign to His authority to forgive sins.  Our ministry to others is a sign to the truth behind our message.  Jesus loves them immeasurably, but it up to us to show them that love.  We are the light and salt of the earth.  We are the ambassadors of Christ.  We are who the world looks to to see Jesus.  So understand, the Jesus you show them by your actions is the Jesus they will believe in, for better or for worse.
Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts? "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"—He said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen strange things today!"  Luke 5:17-26 NKJV

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thank God For Illness

I was planning on doing this message in the future, but it has been on my heart since yesterday.  I alluded to a future post I would make on the nature of sickness and today has become that future.  I hear too many wrong things about sickness and the Christian that I feel it is important to address those errors and prayerfully bring us into a right belief on the nature of illness.  The errors I have heard are that illness is always of the devil, that Jesus has never made anyone sick or that God will never make a Christian experience illness, and that the blood of Jesus covered our illnesses just as much as it covered our sin.  Most of these errors are taught by teachers today like Joseph Prince, but there are many others who came before him and others who will come after him who teach the same lies.  The overriding theme of today is an extension of what we learned yesterday, that message being that sickness is gift from God. 
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:10 NKJV
I know that goes against the very core of the apostate teaching spreading like wildfire through the church today, but it is true.  We are, like Paul, to take pleasure in our infirmities.  I know that makes little sense.  It is hard to take pleasure in a bad cold or the flu.  I know it is unthinkable to take pleasure in such terrible diseases as  cancer.  What else are we going to do, though? Are we going to wallow in our own misery?  Will that make us feel any better?  Nope, in fact, it will make it worse.  Being sick and unhappy is worse than being sick and happy.  No, we must take pleasure in our infirmities.  We must, in a way, enjoy our illnesses.  So how do we do that?  It makes no sense and really seems impossible.  The answer is what we always do when something does not make sense and seems impossible, we go to God. 
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  James 1:2-5 NKJV
I think that illness qualifies as a trial and in that trial we are to rejoice and when we do not know how to rejoice we need to ask God and He will show us how.  In fact, God will not just show us, but God will give us the joy in our trial.  Some teach that these trials are an illusion and if we accept in faith that they do not exist, they will go away.
So what of that teaching? So what of the doctrine that Jesus bore our illnesses on the cross?  I have addressed this issue in a previous post, but I will give a quick argument now.  The doctrine is that Jesus paid for our sins and our illnesses on the cross is stated in Isaiah.  The problem is in how we word things.  We often say that Jesus died "for" our sins.  It would be more accurate to say that Jesus died "because" of our sins.  He died for our salvation.  He died for our freedom from condemnation.  He died for our freedom from being a slave to sin.  Now if we extend that argument to illness, what aspect of illness would Jesus have died for?  Is it like sin where Jesus died because of our illnesses?  If this be so then Jesus paid the death that our illnesses would have caused but not necessarily freedom from illness itself.  What I mean is that the death of Jesus does not mean that there is any earthly consquence to sin.  If we steal, we still go to prison no matter how much God forgives us.  If we get drunk often enough we will still get liver disease.  The penalty paid is for our eternal punishment not for our temporal consquences.   If we apply this same doctrine to illness, it would mean one of several things.  First it would mean that God will not heal the temporal effects of illnesses that are our own faults.  But then where is the line of fault?   You can make the argument that if you do not wash your hands properly, it is your own fault if you get sick.  Furthermore, if the death of Jesus paid your eternal price for sin, what is the eternal price for illness?  We get new bodies in Heaven and so earthly illness has no bearing on eternity.  The other argument is that we are healed today because Jesus paid for our illnesses back then.  If that be so, then how can any Christian ever get sick to even need be healed?  If Jesus died just as much for our illnesses as He did for freedom from condemnation for our sins, then we should never even get sick to begin with.  Think about it, how long does it take for God to forgive you after you sin?  The answer is that the sin was already forgiven when Jesus died on the cross.  There is no lag time as the sin was paid for before you even committed it.  There is no condemnation of those in Christ, not even for a moment.  Let us apply that to sickness now.  Do you see the problem?  If Jesus died for freedom from illness as He did for freedom from condemnation, we should never be ill as Jesus bore that illness before we were even alive to have it.  The very fact that we can get sick to begin with betrays the doctrine that Jesus bore our illnesses at Calvary. 
Now we should pray for illness.  James tells us to pray for the sick brother and that the prayer of faith will heal him.  Now that prayer of faith is a prayer when God gives you the knowledge that your brother or sister will be healed . That prayer is not a measure of our own faith, but that of God when God gives it.  On the other hand, we also have Paul telling Timothy to take some wine for his stomach.  Sometimes God will heal us, sometimes He will not. 
But where does illness come from to begin with?  That is the point I want to make today and before this message becomes too long, I will now address that main issue.  First of all, we learned yesterday that illness can come from Satan.  But what we also know is that Satan can not inflict us with illness unless specifically allowed to do so by God.
And the LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause." So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life."  Job 2:2-6 NKJV
Yes, Satan did inflict illness upon Job but Satan was only allowed to do so when God gave him specific permission and even them limited what he can do.  Is Satan to "blame" for what happened to Job?  I suppose if we are looking for blame, we can blame Satan.  It was Satan's idea and Satan who did it.  But I think asking for blame is the wrong heart to ask in.  We are becoming like Job's friends and instead of looking for the greater message from God, we are looking for who is to blame.  Job is not a book about Satan hurting Job, but a book about God sharing with us the wonderful message of getting through trials.  What Job went through by Satan's hand was a gift from God for Job's benefit. So while the illness was of Satan, it was allowed by God.  God is the one who made the choice to allow it. 
But our illnesses are not always from Satan.  God has used illness for judgment and chastisement many times in the Bible. To say that Jesus never made anyone sick is ignorant.  First of all, it denies that we have one God.  If our God is one then just as the Father made someone sick, Jesus did as well.  Can the Father and Son act out of compliance with one another?  The only argument you can possibly make is to say that when Jesus was in His earthly ministry, he never made anyone sick that we know of.  Even since that time, Jesus put Jezebel on a bed of suffering and blinded Paul temporarily.  I am not saying that God roams the earth looking to strike people will illness, but God has done it in the past and God will in the future (see Revelation).   Now perhaps you are saying that God would not send illness upon one of His children.  Well we have already seen through Paul and Job that God will at least allow illness to affect our lives, it is not a broad leap to assume that God will inflict us Himself.  In fact, Scripture supports that idea.
For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 NKJV
Wait a minute, we are forgiven our sins yet God still chastens us?  I have even heard it taught that God will not punish us at all for sin even on earth because that would be like that sin being paid for twice.  That position is not sustainable in Scripture.  In fact, God tells us that His chastening is an important part of our relationship with Him. 
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;  For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:5-11 NKJV
And there you see, even our chastening, which can be in the form of sickness, is a gift from God.  It is not punishment for the sake of punishment as some would teach.  It is not punishing a sin a second time after Jesus paid for it on the cross as some would teach.  Chastisement is for our benefit to yield the fruit of righteousness.  In other words, our chastening is not punitive but corrective.  It is to make us better.  Just as a loving parent punishes a child to correct bad behavior so God chastens us.  Just as a responsible parent chastens a child for unsafe or unhealthy behavior so God chastens us.  Our chastening is never pleasant as we endure it, but it always ends up better in the end after it is done.  We need to not shy from our chastening but praise God that He loves us enough to chasten us. 
And, finally, sometime sickness is the effect of our own behavior.  Jesus did not die so I can eat McDonald's everyday.  If I eat McDonald's every day, I am more than likely going to have heart disease.  Jesus did not die so I can get drunk every day.  If I drink heavily everyday, I am more than likely going to have liver disease.  We need to look at our own selves for many of the sicknesses we face.  If we do not wash our hands or practice good hygiene, we will get sick more often. If we do not brush our teeth, we will get cavities.  If we do not take proper nutrition, our systems will be weak and we will be more susceptible to illness.  If we do not maintain a healthy weight, we have a good chance of developing Diabetes.  That is just a fact of life of these mortal and temporary bodies that God has given us for our time on earth.  We need to be good stewards of what God has given us.  We can not trash our bodies then ask God why we have gotten sick.  The amazing thing about God, though, is that God will even give us the grace to get through these illnesses as well.  He may even heal us.  He definitely still loves us and despite us trashing the gift He has given us for our time on earth, He still forgives us.  If you are ill of your own making, thank God even for that because in the end we will be more reliant upon God and that is the best place to be.  Remember, God works all things together for good, even our mistakes. 
And so I hope that today we have a good picture of the nature of illness.  Whether it be of Satan with permission of God, whether it be by the hand of God Himself, or whether it be by our own irresponsibility, they should all be seen as gifts from God.  If the illness is from Satan with permission of God, it means God allowed it for a greater purpose in our lives and in the lives of others.  If the illness is directly from God, it means that God loves us as a father and is trying to do an amazing work inside us.  If it be by our own irresponsibility, it means that when we repent of our mistreatment of our bodies we will begin to see God use even the mistakes we made as instruments for His glory.   So, in the end, we should not rebuke Satan for our illnesses but praise God for allowing them. 
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV